I'm often struck by how authors of color use such a variety of terms in referring to other individuals of color. Some say black (little 'b'), others Black. Some use African-American, some person-of-color (PoC). I refer to "authors of color" because I like to be guided by the community itself, rather than by someone observing the community externally. It seems more appropriate, more empowering, more authentic and respectful. Of course, just like many other communities, there seems to be little if any consensus on terminology. So I was struck today by an incident that occurred on the playground, when a little girl asked to catch Dinkeneh on his way down the slide. She was about seven or eight and very eager for the job, so I consented. She enthusiastically hoisted him up on to her hip afterwards, and they took a second to stare into each others' eyes. Then she glanced at me out of the corner of her eyes, looked back to Dinkeneh, and said with no small amount of puzzlement, "He looks brownish to me." After a brief pause, I responded that yes, I supposed he did look brownish, and she broke into a big smile and asked if she could take him down the slide again.
Did I mention that D and this little girl had the exact same skintone?
At first I attributed the "brownish" term to the normal association of children of that age to skin's actual color. No surprise that she might not use the more political labels (see above) that adults use to describe, er, "brownish" people. But the more I thought about it, the more I wondered...why the ish? Why not just plain brown? Is the placement of the ish innocent, like maybe D doesn't have skin as dark as others she knows? They're brown, so he's just brownish? Or is it something else, something heavier, like maybe she was afraid that having brown skin is bad, but brownish skin is more acceptable? Or that I might somehow be offended if she told me my son was brown, but brownish was okay? Or maybe she just thought that a brown baby with a white mama must not qualify as brown, straight up, so the ish is evidence of mama messing with his identity, removing him from a community to which he would otherwise belong.
Definitely food for thought. I would never have believed three little letters could intrigue me so much.
So, what do you think about the ish?